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Senate majority whip: Cyber bill will have to wait until fall

Senate majority whip: Cyber bill will have to wait until fall

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynDem senator threatens to slow-walk spending bill Ark., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test Texan tackles tricky tongue twister for #TheEllieChallenge MORE (R-Texas) on Tuesday said the upper chamber is unlikely to move on a stalled cybersecurity bill before the August recess.

Senate Republican leaders, including Cornyn, had been angling to get the bill — known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — to the floor this month.

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But Cornyn said that there is simply too much of a time crunch in the remaining legislative days to get to the measure, intended to boost the public-private exchange of data on hackers.  

“I’m sad to say I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he told reporters off the Senate floor. “The timing of this is unfortunate.”

“I think we’re just running out time,” he added.

An aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Congress to clear path for Mattis Senate holds two-hour Biden lovefest MORE (R-Ky.) said he had not committed to a specific schedule after the upper chamber wraps up work in the coming days on a highway funding bill.

Cornyn said Senate leadership will look to move on the bill sometime after the legislature returns in September from its month-long break.

The move would delay yet again what’s expected to be a bruising floor fight about government surveillance and digital privacy rights.

“[CISA] needs a lot of work,” Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Passing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy MORE (D-Vt.), who currently opposes the bill, told The Hill on Tuesday. “And when it comes up, there’s going to have to be a lot of amendments otherwise it won’t pass.”

Despite industry support, broad bipartisan backing, and potentially even White House support, CISA has been mired in the Senate for months over privacy concerns.

Civil liberties advocates worry the bill would create another venue for the government’s intelligence wing to collect sensitive data on Americans only months after Congress voted to rein in surveillance powers.

But industry groups and many lawmakers insist a bolstered data exchange is necessary to better understand and counter the growing cyber threat. Inaction will leave government and commercial networks exposed to increasingly dangerous hackers, they say.

Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenSenate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Budowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? Overnight Cybersecurity: Fed agency IT report cards | Senate Dems push for briefing on Russia hacks MORE (D-Ore.), who has been leading the chorus opposing the bill, rejoiced Tuesday after hearing of the likely delay.

“I really want to commend the advocates for the tremendous grassroots effort to highlight the fact that this bill was badly flawed from a privacy standpoint,” he told The Hill.

Digital rights and privacy groups are blanketing senators’ offices this week with faxes and letters in an attempt to raise awareness of bill’s flaws.

“Our side has picked up an enormous amount of support,” Wyden said.

Wyden was the only senator to vote against CISA in the Senate Intelligence Committee. The panel approved the measure in March by a 14-1 vote and it looked like CISA was barrelling toward the Senate floor.

After the House easily passed its companion pieces of legislation, CISA’s odds only seemed better.

But the measure got tied up in the vicious debate over the National Security Agency's (NSA) spying powers that played out throughout April and May.

“It’s like a number of these issues, in the committee the vote was 14-1, everyone says, ‘oh, Ron Wyden opposes another bipartisan bill,’” Wyden said Tuesday. “And I said, ‘People are going to see that this is a badly flawed bill.’”

CISA backers hoped that the ultimate vote to curb the NSA’s surveillance authority might quell some of the privacy fears surrounding CISA, clearing a path to passage. But numerous budget debates and the Iranian nuclear deal have chewed up much of the Senate’s floor time throughout June and July.  

Following the devastating hacks at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Senate Republican leaders tried to jump CISA in the congressional queue by offering its language as an amendment to a defense authorization bill.

Democrats — including the bill’s original co-sponsor Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinDems push for panel to probe Russian interference in election Overnight Energy: Senate Dems set to fight water bill White House could make 'torture' report public, says Intel Dem MORE (D-Calif.) — revolted, angry they could not offer amendments to CISA’s language before it was attached to the defense bill.

Cornyn on Tuesday chastised Democrats for stalling a bill that many of them favor.

“As you know, Senate Democrats blocked that before on the defense authorization bill,” Cornyn said. “So we had an opportunity to do it then.”

Now it’s unclear when the Senate will have another opportunity.

When it does, however, CISA could have the votes to get through.

There will be vocal opposition from senators like Wyden and Leahy, and potentially from anti-surveillance advocates like Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulGOP rep: Trump has 'extra-constitutional' view of presidency The ignored question: What does the future Republican Party look like? Rand Paul skeptical about Romney as secretary of State MORE (R-Ky.), Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Healthcare: Medical cures bill finally heads to White House Overnight Energy: Trump taps EPA foe to head agency | Energy reform bill officially dead Senate GOP: National museum should include Clarence Thomas MORE (R-Utah) and Dean HellerDean HellerGovernments and businesses: Teaming up for taxpayers GOP senator won't rule out 2018 run for Nevada governor A holiday surprise: Will Congress protect privacy? MORE (R-Nev.).

But finding 40 votes to block the bill completely will be a difficult task.

Wyden said he wouldn’t “get into speculation” about whether he could gather the support to stop CISA altogether.

“I’m pleased about the progress that we’ve made,” he said.

—Updated at 4:14 p.m.